Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action/drama/angst
Disclaimer: Joss owns all the characters.
Spoilers: "Grave"
Summary: Spike comes back from Africa, lost in the pain and confusion from getting his soul back, only to discover that something weird is going on. The scoobies are starting to behave strangely, while something dangerous is lurking around in Sunnydale. Is Spike a part the problem, or the cure?

Chapter 1 - Jinxed

The air in the kitchen was rich with the scents of sizzling meat, curry and rice, and also with the chatter of the friends that puttered about the kitchen, sharing an easy camaraderie.

Outside the window, the sky was dark, save for a pale moon that was spreading soft, cool light over the garden, preparing it for coming frosts.

After a long, calm summer, Fall had finally come to 1630 Revello Drive.

To everyone's relief, the "bad guys" seemed to have been on vacation during the last few months. Sure, there were a few vamps here and there, some minor monsters and a couple of psycho moth-chicks, but in general, it had been a time of well-needed rest and recuperation from the stressful events of last Spring that demanded more healing than a bowl of Hägen Dasz could bring.

"Pass me some more," Dawn pointed at the feta cheese on the counter, "of that squared dairy stuff!"

"Okay," Buffy twirled the can in the air and then shoved it against her with a smooth "Cocktail"-move, "Squared dairy stuff coming up."

‘Hey!’ she said to herself, ‘I'm wasting my talents on slaying when I could earn easy money twirling booze containers in the air!’

She looked over at Xander, who was enthusiastically chewing cheese as he half-heartedly diced vegetables,

"There really should be," he mumbled, mouth full, "an international house of cheese. I would go there!"

"Oh," Buffy replied, smiling, "I think you and that cheese should get a room",

She grabbed the spatula and stirred the contents of the frying pan. As she worked, idly watching Dawn set the plates on the table, Buffy realized that this conversation was starting to become a bit too "corny" for her.

"By the way," she changed the subject, "what do you guys think of the "Grr...Arrgh" situation? Maybe Evil slipped in the bathroom, hit its head on the toilet paper holder and killed itself for all eternity?"

"Nooo!" Xander wailed through a mouthful of cheese, “Now you jinxed it!”

"It's true!" Dawn agreed cheerily, "That's why I never say anything about math!"

"Oh..." she added quietly, "...and also, because I suck at it."

"Evil things come from jinxing!" Xander warned, "Evil things and bad movie plots."

"Oh, please", Buffy said with a grin, "It doesn't..."

A sudden, loud thump against the front door made them all turn their heads toward the hallway.

"HA! See!! Here they come!" Xander waved his finger in the air frantically, "The hoards of evil zombies! Okay, who left the toxic waste lying in the backyard?!"

He wasn't overreacting. Not much, anyway. On the hellmouth, loud thumps on the front door seldom meant nice neighbors bringing cinnamon-rolls - unless those buns were poisoned with magical transformation powder, or if the neighbor actually was a brain-eating robot from the future.

On second thought, evil zombies was not at all an unlikely scenario. For a moment, there were no more sounds from the other side of the front door, but then they heard moans and a few more thumps.

Then there was silence again.

"Okay," Buffy headed for the door with Dawn and Xander following anxiously behind her, "$300 on the zombie theory."

"Eh-hem", Dawn said in a low voice as Buffy reached for the door-handle, "unless the enemy is a vicious burger, I don't think that will help you."

She pointed to the plastic spatula in Buffy’s raised hand.

"Oh...,” Buffy whispered, embarrassed, then tossed her kitchen accessory aside before grabbing the handle and yanking the door open.

The three friends froze at the sight of A badly beaten, barely recognizable figure lying on the porch. It took only a moment to recognize the body they were staring down at.


* * * * * *

His bare chest was covered with marks of torture, and his face was lost in bruises and wounds. Although it was clear that several of the marks and cuts had been healing for a while, many of the injuries seemed too severe, considering his vampire healing power. He lay there like a bundle of flesh that someone had thrown against their door.

There was a long moment of complete silence.

As she stared down at him, Buffy's mind whirled. Memories of the events that preceded his disappearance came rushing back uninvited. The cold floor against her back, his rough hand on her bruised body, and her words when she had fought him off, what she suddenly truly understood, not only with her head, but also with her heart:

"Ask me again why I can never love you!"

She thought that she was over it. She was wrong.

‘Why did he have to come back to remind me?’ she thought, then wondered,‘”what on earth could have done this to him?"

Xander was the first to break the silence. He had never liked Spike, and the incident in the bathroom didn't exactly make him want to arrange a parade in his honor.

"Can I stake the bastard?" he turned to Buffy with a dark look in his eyes, "I'll sweep the dust off the floor afterwards. Pleeease!"

The thought of Spike's dust on her porch appealed to Buffy for about a second. It wasn't that she felt sorry for him, she just wasn't in the mood for dealing with death this evening.

And besides, it would be wrong. Sort of.

"No," she answered him, "Nobody stakes anyone. Murder makes me lose my appetite."

"Oh, please, Dawn groaned, "He's already dead. It's not murder, it's more like corpse desecration."

"OK," she reconsidered, "still not appetizing, but..."

She stopped herself as she looked at Buffy and realized that her sister
wasn't in the mood for a discussion.

"We can't just leave him here on the porch", Buffy reached down, took hold of Spike and started dragging him toward the door. The movement made him turn his face and mumble something inaudible.

"Are you gonna..?" Xander protested loudly.

"But...!" Dawn joined in.

"Or what?! Leave him outside like some fanged porch decoration? He would be more decorative that the Olsen's garden gnomes, but I don't think that the rest of the neighbors would agree about that."

It was clear that Buffy had made up her mind.

Xander and Dawn both knew that it would be impossible to turn her around, so they just stood aside and let her pass, both horribly upset over the vampire that was being drug into the sanctity of the Summer's home.

"This can never end well", Xander shook his head, "Never."

* * * * * *

"OK, Xander said, looking down at the blond vampire lying unconscious in front of him, "now we'll have to burn the sofa."

"Is he going to live here now?" he asked sarcastically, "Should I forward his mail? I don't want him to miss his subscription to Peroxide Digest."

Buffy didn't answer him, she just sighed.

She felt cold inside as she looked down at the vampire.

‘He always gets himself into a mess and makes me save him from it’, she thought, already regretting that she had let him into her house again.

It was a bad choice, but she had made a lot of those lately, so it didn't really feel like it mattered anymore. Her life was always crashing and burning anyway, so it was just as good to be

Dawn left them, and went to the kitchen after a soda. As the open fridge door blocked the others’ view of her she felt the tears coming. This was the first time she had seen Spike since Xander told her what happened.

She felt angry.

Angry at herself for not really wanting to stake him. He deserved it, she knew that, but she desperately hoped that there was some good explanation, like the chip had gone defective or something like that, so she could like him again and that everything would be like before.

‘Stupid girl’, she thought as she wiped the tear away and put on her determined face again.

A sudden cry came from the quiet living room.

"No, God no!"

* * * * * *

Spike stared across the living room, his eyes filled with distress. Then he closed them again and covered his face with his hands. His body cramped with pain as his words blended with sobbing.

"The blood! The faces! They’re everywhere, staring!" He closed his fists "I can't...the blood's on me!"

Spike's mind was raging, the feelings inside consuming him like fire. The memories kept flashing by in an endless tormenting stream. It was almost like he could reach out and touch them, like he was standing in that alley, that forest, that bar, with the taste of the blood of hundreds of people in his mouth, with the fading lights of their eyes staring down at him, with the scent of their fear grabbing him by the throat like death itself.

Where was he? Was it then or now or an endless limbo? Was it hell? In some way he hoped that it was. It was the only way he could find freedom.

Suddenly there she was. Her voice pierced through the fog in his soul, and he turned numb. He wished he could hide, but all was cold and barren. Cold and empty. Then the sound of his name being called out flashed like a bright light through his mind.

"Oh joy. Crazy vampires is just what the world needs more of", Xander commented as he watched Spike twist and scream through Buffy's failed
attempts to make him snap out of it, "Anybody got some Haldol? Or does that only work on the living?"

Dawn stood staring, feeling startled and worried. Who had done this to him?

"Should I bring some water or something?", she asked her sister, but Buffy didn't answer.

Buffy was lost in anger and exhaustion.

She wasn't in the mood for saving his sanity. He just needed to get a grip so that he could get out of her house and bother someone else. "Spike!", she shouted.

Dawn took a step closer to Buffy. "Should I bring some..."

Buffy looked at her, visibly irritated, "Dawn, I..."

Suddenly she felt a hand grasping her arm, and she turned to meet Spike’s gaze. Blue eyes met brown for a moment that seemed like an eternity, and then she heard him say it.

"It burns, Buffy".

Then he once again slipped into unconsciousness, loosening his grip on her arm.

"Well, at least he's quiet again", Xander said.

He felt his voice fade as he looked at Buffy. Her eyes wide with shock, she stood absolutely still, unable to move.

"What is it, Buffy?", he said. "Did he do something to you?"

Dawn put her hand on Buffy's back.

"What is it Buffy?" she asked.

Buffy looked at Xander and Dawn.

"A soul," her voice broke as she spoke the words, "I think he's got a soul."

* * * * * *

As he looked in through the living room window at the dramatic events that took place in the Summer's home, he smiled. If anyone would see him there lurking in the shadows, they probably wouldn't recognize the reactions in his bizarre mimic as a smile. On the other hand, they would probably be busy being terrified and running for their lives. Even if it wasn't night. it would have been hard to recognize anything else but darkness in the features of his face and body. He was covered in a coat-like cloth that was in constant silent motion around him, more like quickly drawn lines than fabric.

In the silence, a small silhouette came fluttering through the air. It was birdlike, but not really a bird. It had wings with long feather-like lines, disarranged almost like Mikado.

As it approached its’ master, it started to transform. When it finally reached him, his hand closed around what now had formed into a bony walking stick.

He looked down at his transformed companion. "We have found the one", he said.

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